This coming Sunday a lot of attention will be focused on Osaka, as we get the long awaited WBC Light Flyweight world title bout between Kenshiro Teraji (17-0, 10) and Tetsuya Hisada (34-10-2, 20), around 4 years after they were first supposed to fight. That however isn't the only bout of note in Japan this weekend, in fact over in Okinawa around the same time we get the chance to see a very notable WBO Asia Pacific title fight between a former world champion and youngster looking to secure a a massive win, in just his 4th professional bout.
That bout is the one between former WBC Flyweight champion Daigo Higa (17-1-1, 17), the current WBO Asia Pacific Bantamweight champion, and highly touted prospect Ryosuke Nishida (3-0, 1), who is looking to build on a huge win from late 2020. The bout lacks the allure of the world title fight in Osaka, but is certainly not a bout that should be ignored, and could end up actually being the more compelling bout when all is said and done.
It's needless to say that Diago Higa is the more well known fighter. In fact there was a time, not too long ago, that he was among the most spoken about Japanese fighters in the sport. He was a steam train early in his career, blowing away fighters in quick fashion and winning his first 15 bouts by stoppage. Along the way he took notable scalps, including Kongfah CP Freshmart, who he beat in Thailand for the WBC Youth title, Ardin Diale, who he beat for the OPF title, Juan Hernandez Navarrete, who he beat for the WBC title and Moises Fuentes. In many ways he looked like the Japanese Roman Gonzalez, with the Japanese press dubbing him "The Romagon of Okinawa" after Gonzalez.
Sadly Higa's stoppage run came to an end in 2018 when he lost in 9 rounds to Cristofer Rosales after coming in overweight for a defense of the WBC Flyweight title. That loss, and the subsequent suspension for missing weight from the JBC, saw Higa stay away from the ring for almost 2 years, before returning in early 2020 and beating Jason Buenabora in 6 rounds. That bout was followed by Higa soon leaving the Shirai Gushiken Sports Gym, who had guided his entire career, and signing up with the newly established Ambition gym. It was thought a new gym would reinvigorate Higa, who had admitted his motivation for the sport was waning. Sadly for him his first bout as an Ambition gym fighter didn't end well, with Higa only managing a draw as he met former amateur rival, and close personal friend, Seiya Tsutsumi. It seemed that a forced move from Flyweight to Bantamweight was going to be a problem for Higa, with the new weight not playing well with his style. At least that's what we though until the very end of 2020 when he demolished Yuki Strong Kobayashi in 5 rounds to claim the WBO Asia Pacific title and looked like the Higa of old.
At the moment it's still unclear how the forced move up in weight for Higa will work longer term. He looked brilliant against Kobayashi, not quite his best but still a brilliant and destructive performance, but he looked poor against Buenaobra and certainly didn't look his best against Tsutsumi. He also didn't look great when he took part in an exhibition against Naoya Inoue, when Inoue seemed to want to teach Higa a bit of a lesson at times. It's going to be interesting to see how he develops at the weight, and whether he has the tools, and size, needed to be a success here. If he does he'll be a brilliant addition to an already fantastic weight class.
Whilst Higa is a big name, a well established fighter and someone who fans will have heard of if they follow the lower weights, the same cannot be said of Ryosuke Nishida. In fact Nishida is one that only hardcore fans of the Japanese scene will know anything about. Though they will likely tell you, as we will, that's a hidden gem of a fighter who has already been hugely impressive in his 3 fight, 15 round, professional career.
Nishida turned professional in 2019, following a strong amateur career, and his team did the usual big talk, claiming that no one in Japan wanted to fight him and he had to debut in Thailand as a result, where he blew out Sakol Ketkul. Around 10 weeks after his professional debut he made his Japanese debut and dominated Filipino journeyman Pablito Canada, taking a very wide decision win over 6 rounds. Sadly his rise through the ranks was slowed in 2020 due to Covid19, which decimated the Japanese boxing calendar for the year, but in December he squeezed in a fight and put on a brilliant performance against former world title challenger Shohei Omori. He entered that bout as a big under-dog but put in a performance not befitting a then 2-0 (1) prospect. In fact if anything he looked every bit as good as his team had told us he was.
In the ring Nishida couldn't be much different to Higa if he tried. Whilst Higa is a short, powerful, pressure fighter, with a major offensive mindset, who has had to move from 112lbs to 118lbs Nishida really is the opposite. He is a tall, southpaw, who is moving in down in weight, and focuses on boxing and moving, using his educated feet, his amateur pedigree being clear every time he steps in the ring. He has quick hands, good movement and he boxes with his brain, not his brawn.
Although there is only limited footage of Nishida to get a read on him as a fighter, with his debut not surfacing and being pretty pointless to scout him off regardless, it's hard to say how good he really is, but it's clear that he is, at the least, very good. He's patient, has good timing, he's composed, smart and a sharp fighter. His jab and footwork are really good and in the bout with Omori he looked like a man with much, much more to offer. In fact in the later rounds, when he already had a comfortable lead, he seemed to want to put the cherry on the top of his performance and stop Omori. With that in mind we suspect his stamina is going to be good, he had energy to burn late on. One worry about him however, is how his body reacts to moving down to 118lbs, having fought all of his bouts at, or around, 122lbs so far. If he can make the weight with no issues he could be a real handful. Not just for Higa, but for a lot of very good fighters.
If Nishida makes the 118lb limit without taking much out of himself, and there's a good chance he can, then this is going to be a real test of character for Higa. Nishida is the type of fighter who we feel has the footwork, jab and timing to frustrate Higa, round after round. We've not seen his chin really being tested, though he was caught a few times by Omori and took them well, but if he can take a good shot from Higa he has a real chance off scoring an upset. That will be an even bigger chance if Hishida, moving down, has some more pop on his shots.
Higa will, obviously, be strongly favoured, and many who haven't seen Nishida will feel he's being thrown to the wolves. In reality however he's the latest Japanese fighter to show a willingness to take risks early and want to advance his career quickly. He will come into this bout as a very live underdog. It's a huge step up for him, but it's certainly one he has a chance in.
In regards to how the bout will be. We see Higa barrelling forward, it's how Nishida deals with that that will decide the bout. Higa is what he is. A strong, pressure fighter with lovely combinations, but a poor defense, and a significant size disadvantage at Bantamweight. If Nishida can cope with the pressure he'll win here however that's a huge if, and many will suspect he'll fold under the Higa pressure.
We are believers that a good big guys beats a good little guy, and with that in mind we're going with the surprise upset here. We feel Nishida will struggle at times, but manage to, just, do enough to take the win, using his size as a major tool.
Prediction - UD12 Nishida
On February 27th we'll see fast rising Kazakh hopeful Kamshybek Kunkabayev (2-0, 2) take part in his first title bout as he battles Northern Irish fighter Steven Ward (13-1, 4) in a contest for the WBO Asia Pacific Cruiserweight title, in Kazakhstan. On paper this looks like the next step en route to making Kunkabayev a star, and will see him take on a decent fighter, but someone he should beat. On the other hand it gives Ward a high profile bout against a top former amateur, a chance to get his career back in track after a 2019 loss to the under-rated, and wonderfully charming, Ricards Bolotniks.
To begin with, we don't know how Ward qualifies for a WBO Asia Pacific title bout. It appears that every so often a title and its rules and regulations go out of the window and this appears to be one of those cases. Despite that we are, genuinely, looking forward to this bout and suspect it will be a coming out party, of sorts, for the fantastically promising Kunkabayev, who may well be on the fast track to major success.
The 29 year old Kazakh made his professional debut last August, with the intention of using the professional scene to stay busy and stay finely tuned ahead of the Tokyo Olympics. An Olympics that had already been delayed and, even as we write this, isn't a sure thing due to Covid19. Unlike many fighters who take stay busy fights Kunkabayev didn't want easy bouts to stay busy and instead took on Issa Akberbayev, who seemingly didn't want to be there. He then returned to the ring in December and took on the usually solid Serhiy Radchenko, and scored a 4th round RTD win. After just 2 wins it seemed that Kunkabayev was already showing the tools of being a fantastic professional and with the Olympics looking less and less likely we do wonder whether his mind set has changed to focusing on the professional scene, rather than the amateur one.
Despite impressing as a professional it is worth noting that Kunkabayev really is a top notch amateur. He was a 2-time World Championship silver medal winner and 2-time Asian Championship silver medal winner. His amateur credentials speak for themselves, and unsurprisingly he is a very, very well polished boxer. At 6'3" he's got good size for a Cruiserweight and he knows how to use his frame well. He has a sharp jab, moves surprisingly lightly on his feet, has an excellent southpaw left hand, and is technically very good. Despite being impressive it is worth noting that his first two opponents have shown almost no ambition against him and not asked any questions, and he's really looked like a man who hasn't got out of first gear yet. It'll be interesting to see what happens when an opponent takes the fight to him, and doesn't show him far, far, far, too much respect.
In Steven Ward we have a 30 year old who began his career in 2016 as a Light Heavyweight. His career went swimmingly early on and he won his first 12 bouts, including a notable win in 2018 against Steve Collins Jr and a good 2019 win over Liam Conroy. Sadly however his winning run came to an end in late 2019 when he was stopped inside a round by Ricards Bolotniks in WBO European Light Heavyweight title bout. Against Sadly for Ward the loss to Bolotniks, and the win over Conroy, saw him being dropped and there are real question marks as to whether that was due to a poor chin, or weight issues, with Ward being a big Light Heavyweight at 6'2". Since the loss to Bolotniks he has moved up in weight and we dare say that the increase in weight will be better for his body, though we do still wonder about his durability.
In the ring Ward is a fighter who likes to use his jab, and likes to keep things at a safe range. Sadly however that tactic failed against Bolotniks, who managed to drop him with a left hook mid way through the round and then got all over him and dropped him twice more. That was against a much smaller man. Kunkabayev on the other hand is bigger than Ward and won't be backed off by the jab of the Northern Irishman. In fact if anything Ward trying to jab at Kunkabayev could end up speeding up his downfall. Sadly it's hard to really see what Ward brings to this bout to make him a test. He is, on paper, a step up for Kunkabeyv, but in reality offers very, very little.
On paper Ward looks like a good match up. He's more experienced than Kunkabayev, at least in the professional ranks, but that's pretty much the only advantage he has. He's the naturally smaller man, the less polished, the chinnier, the lesser puncher and the less talented. Ward might have the professional experience but that won't help when Kunkabayev catched him, hurts him, and finishes him.
If we're being honest we suspect Kunkabayev to feel out his man for a round or two, then put his foot on the gas and finish this within 4 rounds to take home his first professional title, and take a huge stride towards a potential world title fight by the end of 2021.
Prediction - Kunkabayev TKO4
New Year's Eve is always a big day for boxing in Japan, and this year is no exception with a brilliant WBO Super Flyweight world title bout between Kazuto Ioka and Kosei Tanaka set to headline the end of year festivities. It is worth noting however that the brilliant main event for the day is set to be one of two title bouts on this year's final Japanese show. The other will WBO Asia Pacific Bantamweight champion Yuki Strong Kobayashi (16-8, 9) seek his second defense, and his biggest win to date, as he faces former WBC Flyweight champion Daigo Higa (16-1-1, 16).
The bout, which will be aired in the Kanto region of Japan, is one that looks poor on paper and we suspect many will see it as a mismatch in favour of the challenger. In reality however we suspect this could be an absolutely brilliant bout, between two well matched fighters, who's styles should gel and make for a very hotly contested and action packed battle.
Of the two fighters it's certainly Higa who is the more well known. The former WBC Flyweight champion began his career with a brilliant and thrilling run of 15 straight stoppage victories. He looked like he was set to be one of the major stars of Japanese boxing over the coming years, and looked, in some whats, like a Japanese Roman Gonzalez, with a style that saw him being dubbed the "Romagon of Okinawa". He connected quickly with fans, and seemed like a quiet guy out of the ring and a destructive one between the ropes, whilst also having the legendary Yoko Gushiken as his mentor.
Sadly after making 2 defenses of the WBC Flyweight title Higa's career came to a startling halt, after he lost the title on the scales ahead of his bout with Cristofer Rosales. He was the first Japanese fighter to ever lose a world title in that fashion and it seemed like he was mentally done going into that fight, being stopped in the 9th round. The weight issue saw the JBC suspending him, and it was almost 2 years later before he returned to the ring, with the JBC not allowing him to fight at a weight below Bantamweight. On his return to the ring that wasn't an issue, as he took out Jason Buenaobra, with no issues at all. Sadly though for Higa and his fans, his second bout back was an issue as he struggled against fellow Japanese fighter Seiya Tsutsumi in October, with the two men fighting to a draw. A draw that many felt Tsutsumi should have won.
At Flyweight Higa a lot of things going for him. He was physically intimidating, with really impressive core strength and power. He was quick on his fight, pressured fantastically well and threw brutal combinations to head and body. His shots at 112lbs were damaging, and he was able to rip opponents apart with combinations, and force them to back off with single, clean jabs. He had it all at 112lbs. At 118lbs however it does seem like his physicality is less dominant, he looks small at Bantamweight, and his style hasn't had the same effect as we saw at Flyweight. He looks somewhat average at the weight. As well as the move up in weight Higa has also left long term mentor Yoko Gushiken and is now fighting out of Tokyo, whilst sparring at fitness gyms, something that has gotten the AMBITION Gym in trouble recently. There is very much a feeling that things are not what they once were for Higa.
When it comes to Yuki Strong Kobayashi we have a fighter with a record that looks unimpressive, and in some ways very limited. With 8 losses from 24 fights we're not even going to pretend he's close to world class. However his numbers don't really reflect the fighter he is today, but more the journey he has taken to get where he is. The 29 year old has had a hard career since beginning his journey way back in 2011 and the man from Osaka has not had the chance to build his record, and pad out his experience with easy fights. He began his career with some success, winning his first 4, but soon began slipping and was 6-3 (4) after 9 bouts, and 10-7 (5) after 17 bouts. His career was going nowhere in early 2017, after losses to Takahiro Yamamoto, Ye Joon Kim and Rey Megrino. But then things changed, and he has gone 8-1 since then, with the one loss being a controversial one against Keita Kurihara, which saw Kobayashi out boxing Kurihara long stretches of the bout, but hitting the canvas numerous times, costing him the win. That same Keita Kurihara is now a world ranked contender just a few fights off a potential world title fight. And the fact Kobayashi went 12 rounds with Kurihara is a testament to his toughness and determination.
Since his loss to Kurihara we've seen Kobayashi score a career best win over Ben Mananquil, defeating him for the WBO Asia Pacific title, and make his first defense, surprisingly going 12 rounds with Ki Chang Go en route to a wide decision win.
In the ring Kobayashi is a pretty basic come forward boxer. Watching him you don't see anything that stands out as spectacular, there's no eye blurring speed, or dynamite power, there's now intense work rate and super high output, and there's flash. Despite all that he's actually a solid boxer, he understands what he's doing and why, he gets the fact he needs to use a jab to set the table, he throws a good solid straight right hand behind it and his defense has improved no end from the early days. He's unfortunate not to have been blessed with any of those traits that a top fighter needs, but he's strong and he always comes to fight. He's also a very natural Bantamweight, which could play a major part in this fight.
Coming in to this the obvious prediction is for Higa to steam roll Kobayashi, applying intense pressure early and breaking down the champion. That however seems far fetched given how Higa has looked at Bantamweight, and the fact Kobayashi, whilst not the most intimidating of fighters, is a strong, well schooled guy, with a tight defense and a good jab. After all if Kurihara, a big puncher at Bantamweight, can't put Kobayashi down and out, we don't think Higa can either.
Instead we expect the smaller Higa to be cautious and instead of trying to break down Kobayashi with pressure and power, he'll use his brain, be quick, get in and out, landing combinations before getting away. Despite that tactic we still expect the power, strength and jab of Kobayashi to be a problem for Higa, who will eat a lot of punches on his way in, and his way out. The jab and right hand of Kobayashi will be enough to get Higa's respect, and we suspect enough for him to pick up rounds, giving us a very close fight.
As the fight goes on, we expect Higa to tire, and the bout to slowly become a war of attrition in the later rounds. We suspect neither man will manage to finish the other off, taking us to the scorecards, in a very hotly contest bout. Just, narrowly, won by Higa, in what would be his first decision win.
Prediction - MD12 Higa
One thing that's clear in the world of boxing is that there are too many titles, and too many of them are meaningless titles with no clear qualifiers as to who can win them and what their purpose is in the sport. For example can anyone tell the difference between the WBA Continental, Intercontinental and International titles?
Thankfully does have some titles that are worth something, even in this weird world where the WBA and WBC want to hand out belts like a fashion accessory. And on December 13 we'll see 3 titles unified in Tokyo as WBO Asia Pacific Super Flyweight champion Ryoji Fukunaga (12-4, 12) takes on Japanese champion Kenta Nakagawa (19-3-1, 12), with the winner not only defending their title, and taking the title from their opponent, but also the currently vacant OPBF title, to become a triple crown champion.
As with all triple crown bouts in Japan this is a really interesting match up and one that be excited about. Style wise the men should match up wonderfully, and given that both men are in their mid-30's neither man can accord a set back if they want to move their career forward. With that in mind, how do we expect this bout to go? And who are the fiughters?
The 34 year old Fukunaga is a hard hitting southpaw who turned professional in 2013 and lost to Seita Mochizuki. He then reeled off 4 straight wins before losing again, in a blow out loss to Ryo Matsubara in 2015. That could have been it for him, but instead he gritted his teeth and rebuilt, surprisingly winning the 2016 All Japan Rookie of the Year, thanks to a solid win against Kota Fujimoto in the final. By the end of 2017 he was 10-2 (10) before suffering back to back decision losses to Yuta Matsuo and Kongfah CP Freshmart. With a 10-4 his career looked like it was going nowhere, and he was out of the ring for 10 months before picking up a low key win in May 2019. He then got a big chance, taking on Froilan Saludar earlier this year for the WBO Asia Pacific title.
In the ring Fukunaga is a bit of a slow fighter in terms of his hand speed, he's a little bit clumsy when he throws punches, bounces on his feet a lot and does a lot of things wrong. When he throws his left he often complete drops his right and has very, very poor defense. Thankfully for him however he a decent chin, good reactions and a real awkwardness to how he fights. He's also blessed with brutal power. Although his punches are technically poor they are thrown with bad intent and are of the "nasty thudding" variety. His jab, when it lands, is hurtful and his left hand is like a wrecking ball, slow but damaging, however he needs to land and that is not a given due to his wide arching punches and lack of speed.
Aged 35 Kenta Nakagawa actually turned professional way back in 2004 and began his career with 2 wins in his first 3 bouts. Then he vanished from boxing for me than 6 before returning in 2011. His return to boxing saw him lose to Teppei Tsutano but since then he has gone a very impressive 17-1-1 (12). During that 19 fight run he's had since he returned to the score he has scored notable wins over the likes of Joe Tanooka, Hayato Kimura, Ryosuke Nasu, Takayuki Okumoto and Yuta Matsuo, and become a 2-time Japanese champion. It's worth noting that his first title reign was a show one, lasting just 5 months, and saw him suffer a 7th round TKO loss to Ryuichi Funai, but he has reeled off 6 straight wins since then.
In the ring Nakagawa is a smart boxer puncher. Like Fukunaga he's a southpaw, but unlike Fukunaga he's actually a pretty polished fighter with deliberate and quick movement, accurate straight punches a powerful left hand, and good timing. He's a much better on the back foot than Nakagawa, and knows how to create, and use distance, landing accurate shots and making opponents make mistakes. He's not the quickest out there, or the biggest puncher, but he has respectable power, and his accuracy and timing make up for his lack of single punch power. What's also rather impressive is his composure under pressure, and he showed this well under the aggression and pressure of Yuta Matsuo back in July.
If a bout was decided on skills alone this would be an easy win for Nakagawa. He is by far, the more polished, rounded and knowledgable fighter in the ring. The issue here however is the power of Fukunaga. If he lands a clean one on Nakagawa he certainly has the power to get Nakagawa's attention, and potentially get him to unwind. We suspect Nakagawa's movement will limit there, but there is always a chance he could land, and it may only take one clean, wild left hand to turn the bout around.
We suspect that Nakagawa will manage to rack up rounds, box smartly, and get a big lead through the bout. However there will always be danger, whilst he'll look in control there will be a sense of tension through out the contest. Fukunaga might miss a lot, might look clumsy, but he will be dangerous to the end and it will take a very good performance from Nakagawa to see this out, secure the win and finish the night as a triple crown champion.
Prediction - UD12 Nakagawa
If we're being honest it can be easy to hate on some weight divisions, and one of those that is an easy target is the Featherweight division, especially in 2020 when almost no big bouts took place in it. In a division that has the likes of Can Xu, Josh Warrington, Gary Russell Jr and Emanuel Navarrete there is the talent there for some phenomenal bouts but sadly we've not seem much at all worth being excited about. Fingers crossed 2021 will be a much, much better year for the division.
Thankfully whilst the division's biggest and brightest haven't given us much to talk about the division does still have some interesting action going on below the top level, and on November 23rd we get the chance to see one of the rising hopefuls of the division in action, as he takes on a serious puncher. The bout isn't set to get much international attention, but it should still deliver some action.
The bout in question will pit WBO Asia Pacific champion Musashi Mori (11-0, 6) against heavy handed challenger Tsuyoshi Tameda (21-5-2, 19), in one of the more interesting bouts the division has given us this year. On paper it might not look that interesting, but in reality the bout is a perfect mix of styles, and a serious test for a man who turns 21 the day before the fight.
The unbeaten champion is the big hope from the gym run by former WBC Bantamweight champion Yasuei Yakushiji, and has been guided brilliantly so far. He debuted aged 17 and won the All Japan Rookie of the Year in 2017, the following year he won the WBO Asia Pacific title, narrowly over-coming Richard Pumicpic, and since then has been learning under the guidance of Ismael Salas. It's been under Salas' guidance that we've seen Mori build around his strength's and go from an aggressive fighter, to be a well balanced boxer, with a might better defense and understanding of the ring.
Under Salas we have seen Mori become a touch boring, dull and less exciting than he once was. On one hand that is disappointing, but it's clearly been a change that will increase Mori's in ring success and it's clear that he's not a much more polished boxer than he was. He's quick, sharp, moves around the ring well and has a razor like southpaw straight left hand. One thing we don't see from him often enough, for our liking, is a jab thrown with intent, but it is in his arsenal, as are short, crafty uppercuts to the body. Although he's technically very good we don't see the X-Factor with him at the moment. He's talented, but lacks that eye catching speed, good night power and we do query his physical maturity, with the youngster still looking like a body. In a year or two, when he build his man strength, that might change, but at the moment it very feels like he needs more time to develop and at 20 going on 21, talk of a world title fight is too soon in our eyes.
At one point Tsuyoshi Tameda looked like a star in the making, and was a stand-out, thrill a minute youngster. He turned professional in 2011, at the age of 17, and was one of the last students under the legendary eye of Kenji Yonekura. As a youngster he kicked off his career with 3 opening round KO's and looked like a destructive force. In just his 5th bout he fought to a draw with Masayuki Ito in the Rookie of the Year, before being beaten a fight later. Following his first loss Tameda went on a role and moved to 13-1-2 (11), including wins over future Japanese national champion Takenori Ohashi and Filipino fighter Mark Bernaldez. Then he lost to Simipiwe Vetyeka, losing a gruelling and 1-sided decision to the talent South African. Sadly Tameda has never really bounced back from that loss and has gone 8-3 since then with stoppage losses to the tricky Reiya Abe, the touted Hinata Maruta and the all action Jae Woo Lee. He's still shown rock hands, but those losses have shown that his chin is cracked, and that he can be stopped.
Now at the age of 27 there are real question marks about just what Tameda has left. Technically he's never been the best, despite being guided first by Yonekura and now by Hideyuki Ohashi. He has always been fun, a devastating puncher, and a real danger man, but has always struggled against fighters that can take his blows and those that can counter him. He makes a lot of mistakes, and gives opponents lots of chances to tag him, but if he lands he can take fighters out, as we saw in stunning fashion Takenori Ohashi.
For this bout we are really interested in several things. Firstly can Tameda land on Mori? And if so can Mori take the power of Tameda? We know Tameda can struggle to land on fighters but when he lands he does tend to chake them up and if Mori is caught clean by a right hand, even once, it will be very interesting to see how he responds. Secondly can Mori get Tameda's respect? If not is he capable of playing keep away for 12 rounds? Tameda does seem like he's somewhat damaged compared to the fighter he once was, but with Mori not having stand out power there's a chance his shots bounce off Tameda as the challenger comes forward.
We suspect the movement, skills, speed and timing of Mori will be the difference. We expect to see the youngster take a shot or two, but not cleanly and not solidly enough to really test his chin, and when he is tagged he'll tie up or get out of dodge. But there will always be that danger of him eating one and coming undone. Tameda will always try, and will always feel he had the power to turn things around, but we feel that after 7 or 8 rounds his steam will run out and Mori will ease over the finish line for a clear decision.
Prediction - UD12 Mori
One of the best division's in the sport right now is the Light Flyweight division, which is a division full of talented fighters, promising match ups, and exciting hopefuls. It's a division that has gone under-the-radar historically but has started to get more and more buzz around it in the last few years thanks to the emergence of some fantastic fighters, like Kenshiro Teraji, Felix Alvarado, Carlos Canizales and Hiroto Kyoguchi.
On November 23rd we see two more men looking to throw their hats into the ring and move towards a world title fight in 2021. The bout in question will see 23 year old southpaw Riku Kano (16-4-1, 8) take on the often under-rated Ryoki Hirai (13-6-1, 4) in a contest for the WBO Asia Pacific title. With the title here the winner will find themselves leaping the queue towards a WBO world title fight, and the loser will have a long, long road back to being a contender, making this a very important bout for the two men involved.
Of the two fighters it's the 23 year old Kano who is the more well known. The youngster made his debut way back in 2013, in the Philippines, and despite losing on debut he began to build some moment soon afterwards. Just over a year after debuting he claimed the WBA Asia Minimumweight title, at the age of 17 and still hadn't made his Japanese debut. When he did finally head back to Japan, in 2015, he did so with some genuine buzz around him and expectation around him. That buzz would lead to him getting a world title fight in 2016, at the age of 18, against Katsunari Takayama. The bout was set up with the hope of Kano becoming the youngest ever Japanese world champion, but in the end Takayama was too good, taking a technical decision over Kano.
Sadly for Kano that buzz has never quite comeback and he's gone 6-2 since that loss, with defeats to Jerry Tomogdan and Shin Ono. He has now moved up in weight, though it's hard to know id he will ever "come good" and reach the heights expected of him.
Despite falling short so far Kano is a solid boxer-mover. He's quick, sharp, has nice balance and good skills. Sadly however he's very much lacking in the physical aspects of the sport. He's a light puncher, who doesn't sit on his shots, and doesn't have the physical strength and power to hold his own against a man pressing him. Kano also has question marks over his heart, and he seemed to mentally crumble against Shin Ono. He's a talented fighter, but very an immature one, mentally and physically. Thankfully for him, those issues can be worked on and sorted out, but will need to be worked on NOW!
Whilst much was made of Kano's career early on Hirai never got that early attention. That was, in part, due to his struggles to build any career momentum. He won his first 3 bouts but quickly fell to 3-3-1 and was later 5-4-1. By that point his career looked like it was going no where and he wasn't helped by fighting with a small promoter in Kobe. And then things started to change for Hirai who began to not some good wins, including victories over Takumi Sakai and Ryoya Ikema. Those wins lead to him getting a Japanese title fight in 2018, with Hirai losing a close decision to Shin Ono. Following that loss he suffered another razor thin set back, to Yuto Takahashi, before getting his career back up and running in 2019, with 3 wins.
In the ring Hirai is an interesting fighter. He's not got the highest work rate and he's not the most destructive. What he is however is a solid body puncher, he knows his way around the ring and is surprisingly quick, with both hands and feet. At world level we don't see him making much of an impact, though he could be a banana skin against the right champion, however at domestic and regional level he's a legitimate threat and he could be too much for Kano here.
It's fair to say that Kano is the man with the expectations on his shoulders, and at the time of writing he's the clear favourite with those polled on Boxmob, however we see him really struggling here.
Kano is the better boxer. He's the quicker, smoother, better natural talent. He is however the sort of man who struggled with pressure, and tenacity, and we expect to see that from Hirai, as we saw against Ikema. Our prediction here is a good start for Kano, but as the bout goes on, and he begins to slow down, Hirai's pressure will get to him, and break him down. Eventually Kano's mental strength will be question, and he'll come up short for answers, eventually being stopped.
Prediction - TKO9 Hirai
After an increase in fights in July and August it does appears things in Japan are going to quieten down a little bit in September, sadly. Thankfully however we do kick the month off with a brilliant match up this coming Thursdays from Korakuen Hall, and it really does have the potential to be something very special.
That is the triple title bout between JBC, OPBF and WBO Asia Pacific Lightweight champion Shuichiro Yoshino (12-0, 10) and former Japanese Light Welterweight champion Valentine Hosokawa (25-7-3, 12). On paper it may not look like a sensational bout, but in reality this has the potential to be something truly brilliant, between men with styles that should gel brilliantly to give us something special.
The talented and heavy handed Yoshino has has been moved very quickly since turning professional back in 2015. After debuting at Welterweight he has cut his weight and become the face of Japanese boxing at Lightweight. In his 4th professional bout he beat veteran Yoshitaka Kato and just 2 fights later he became the Japanese Lightweight champion. He added regional titles to his collection last year and will be hoping to keep all 3 bits of silverware here.
In the ring Yoshino really is a boxer-puncher, with some of the heaviest hands in Japanese boxing. He's a clean puncher, has under-rated movement, good hand speed and solid footwork. If we're looking for flaws he can be a slow starter at times, his defense isn't the tightest and he can be out jabbed, out moved and out worked. So far his power had worked as a neutraliser when he has been in trouble, as we saw against Izuki Tomioka in February, but there are areas to work on. He's not a complete fighter, but he is a damn good one, and one who does have the potential to mix with some of the fighters in the upper echelons of the division.
Aged 39 and sporting 7 losses in 35 bouts Valentine Hosokawa is a fighter who loves to defy numbers. He should be too old, he should be too battle worn, he should be on the way on the way out. In fact he should have been on the way out years ago. Like a fine wine however the warrior from the Kadoebi Gym has aged wonderfully and has had the best form of his career at an age where most fighters are retired. He had been putting in great performances, win or lose. He has dropped in weight recently and now looks more dangerous at 135lbs than he ever did at 140lbs, where he was always a nightmare to fight.
Hosokawa made his debut in 2006, and won Rookie of the Year in 2008. He came up short in his first two title fights, both in 2013, but won the Japanese in 2017, beating rival and friend Koichi Aso. After twice defending the title he was dethroned last year by Koki Inoue and then dropped in weight and destroyed Kosuke Arioka last November. He had planned a fight against Jacob Ng in Australia, but that fell through due to the on-going global situation but he's now landed this fight.
For those who hasn't seen Hosokawa he's a physically strong, aggressive, tough, hard working pressure fighter. He comes to win, he presses and lets his hands go. Although not a huge puncher he is a serious volume puncher and makes for real action fights.
Given Hosokawa's aggression and willingness to go forward we see him pressing from the off, and actually copying a gameplan that Harmonito Dela Torre tried to use against Yoshino. That gameplan did see Dela Torre get to Yoshino, before eating an absolute part way through the opening round. For Hosokawa he needs to keep up the pressure, use his strength and try to grind down Yoshino without taking too many risks. Despite moving down in weight worth noting that even at Lightweight he's a small fighter, and will be dwarfed by Yoshino here.
For Yoshino the focus will be on creating space, catching Hosokawa coming forward, and landing his power shots. He'll have to use his feet, he'll have to land very hard clean shots, and have to try and stop the forward march of the challenger. Although Yoshino is a hard puncher it's worth noting Hosokawa hasn't been stopped since back to back TKO defeats in 2013 to Shinya Iwabuchi and Min Wook Kim, and those losses both came at 140lbs.
We do favour Yoshino to take home the win here, we feel his youth, power, height and reach will be the difference, but he will have to work very hard for the win and we do not expect this one to be an easy one for the champion.
Prediction - UD12 Yoshino
The WBO Asia Pacific Flyweight title has become one of the more important titles regional titles in recent years with a host of it's title holders moving on from the regional belt to a world title fight. Since 2010 we have seen holders include Tepparith Kokietgym, Froilan Saludar, Sho Kimura, Masahiro Sakamoto and Wulan Tuolehazi all go on to fight for a world title, with Tepparith and Kimura both going on to claim global honours.
With that in mind the August 19th WBO Asia Pacific Flyweight title bout between Ryota Yamauchi (6-1, 5) and Satoru Todaka (10-3-4, 4) is a pretty significant one, and will likely see the winner taking a huge step towards a future world title shot of their own. With that said the bout is one worthy of genuine attention and makes for a great main event on the upcoming "Slugfest" show.
Coming in to the bout the big favourite will be once beaten 25 year old Yamauchi, a Kadoebi promoted fighter who has long been tipped as a star of the future. He made his debut in 2017 and quickly scored notable wins over Lester Abutan and Yota Hori, wins that instantly got us excited about the trajectory he was on. Sadly his career hit a bump in 2019 when he travelled to China and lost a decision to Wulan Tuolehazi, in what was a truly brilliant fight. The loss was a debatable one, but it did, clearly, slow Yamauchi's rise.
Thankfully since that loss Yamauchi has bounced back, scoring wins against Alphoe Dagayloan and MJ Bo.
In the ring Yamauchi is a boxer-puncher, though he can employee a pressure style and a brawling style pretty effectively when he needs to up the tempo. Sadly for him he is still some defensively naive and was consistently tagged by Tuolehazi in their bout last year. He was dropped, and hurt several times, in that bout, and it's clear he does need to work on his defense. He is however a real talent and given he's only had 7 bouts he has shown a lot of potential and a lot of ability that suggests he could go on to win a world title sooner rather than later. With that in mind he's certainly wanting a regional title, to help open the door to a world title fight down the line.
In the opposite corner to Yamauchi will be 30 year old foe Satoru Todaka, who turned professional way back in 2012. He actually began his career with a loss, to Yukiya Hanabusa, before reeling off a 9 fight unbeaten run, taking his record to a rather peculiar looking 5-1-4 (1). Since then his he's gone 5-2 (3) though has notably been stopped in both of those losses, and has failed to get a top level domestic win.
In his biggest bout to date Todaka lost in a bout for Japanese Light Flyweight title against Kenichi Horikawa, just last year. In that bout he was out boxed, out fought and and forced to retire at the end of the 8th round.
Sadly, given how long his career has been, there isn't much footage on Todaka available, however he's shown little in terms of power, which we suspect a fighter will need to get Yamauchi's respect, and he's also going to be under-sized against the surprisingly imposing Yamauchi.
For Todaka it's the bout against Horikawa that we suspect tells us what we need to about this one. He wasn't really competitive at all with Horikawa, who was too good, too skilled and too experienced. Whilst Yamauchi lacks the experience of Horikawa he's is a very talented young man and a naturally bigger fighter than Horikawa.
We suspect that Todaka will struggle with the size, speed, aggression and power of Yamauchi who will break him down in the middle rounds, to claim his first professional title.
Prediction - TKO5 Yamauchi
On February 14th we'll see Filipino slugger Froilan Saludar (31-3-1, 22) make his first defense of WBO Asia Pacific Super Flyweight title as he takes on fellow puncher Ryoji Fukunaga (11-4, 11) at the Korakuen Hall. On paper this isn't a bout that we expect to see a lot of international attention, but with both men possessing serious power there is a real chance this could end up being a bit of a sleeper classic.
Saludar's career has been an odd one. He was once tipped as a future star of the Filipino scene, before suffering a loss in his 21st bout, when he was taken out by McWilliams Arroyo in a world title eliminator. He would later come up short against Takuma Inoue and then lose in a world title fight in 2018 against Sho Kimura. Those losses essentially saw him being written off, and he'd gone from 19-0-1 (12) to 28-3-1 (19). Since then however he has quietly rebuilt, with 3 T/KO wins, including a spectacular one of unbeaten Japanese hopeful Tsubasa Murachi last September to win the WBO Asia Pacific title.
Early in his career many in the Philippines touted Saludar as a future star. So far his career has fallen short, a long way short, but at 30 years old his career is certainly not over. He's now more mature than he was younger, a little less bouncy and less wasteful in terms of energy, though there does still seem to be a bit too much wasteful movement in his work. He's never had the greatest of engine, but seems to use his experience more to hide that, moving more intelligently and occasionally "old manning" his way through rounds. It's not the most exciting thing to see, but given how exciting he is when he lets his hands go it's certainly not a bad game plan for the "Sniper", who has shown he can strike at any moment. It's that experience that also helps Saludar defensively and he's certainly looking like a man who rides shot better now than he did just a few years ago.
The 33 year old Fukunaga is a bit of an unknown if we're being honest. His record suggests he's a monster puncher with 11T/KO's from 11 wins but the quality of those wins is relatively low. His best win to date came in the 2016 All Japan Rookie of the Year, against Kota Fujimoto, and since then he has really not done anything of note. In fact since his triumph in the All Japan Rookie of the Year Fujimoto is 3-2 (2), though the two losses have come to good competition in the form of Yuta Matsuo and Kongfah CP Freshmart, both in competitive bouts.
Despite his relatively weak wins Fukunaga does actually look to be a pretty solid boxer-puncher, albeit one with questionable defense. He moves forward looking to fire off his stiff jab and uncork his thunderbolt of a southpaw left hand. Defensively his hands are lower than they should be, but he seems to be trying to draw mistakes out of his opponents, and opening them up for counter shots with his head movement. Against the low level opponents he's been taking out it's a tactic that has worked, but against the better fights, such as the ones that have beaten him in recent years, it's not been as effective.
We certainly believe that Fukunaga has the power to hurt Saludar if he lands clean. Sadly for Fukunaga we don't see him landing too much clean, and would expect Sauldar to have the tools to out box him. In fact we wouldn't be surprised if Saludar saw how 1-dimensional Fukunaga was and started lining him up for big counters of his own by the middle rounds, and stopping the challenger.
Fukunaga has a puncher's chance, of course he does, but that is pretty much all he has, from what we've seen. Our prediction is a Saludar win, inside the distance, likely from a big overhand right in the middle rounds.
Prediction - TKO6 Saludar
A year ago Japan's Takeshi Inoue (15-1-1, 9) was on the verge of the biggest fight of his career, a bout with WBO Light Middleweight champion Jaime Munguia. Although he lost to Munguia he impressed with his heart and determination and this coming Saturday he's back in the ring seeking the first defense of his second reign as the WBO Asia Pacific Light Middleweight title, as he takes on China's Cheng Su (14-2-1, 8). The situation couldn't be much more different to the one he found himself in last January, but a win here keeps him in the mix for another world title fight, whilst a loss is unthinkable for the 30 year from Tokyo.
Inoue, for those who missed the Munguia bout, is a rugged, aggressive fighter who comes in pretty square on and looks to make a fight of things. Early in his career he did seem to be more of a boxer-fighter but as his career has progressed he has become more and more of a pressure fighter, often abandoning his jab to ply forward behind his guard and get things up close. This sort of change seemed to happen in 2016 or 2017, and was particularly notable when he beat Akinori Watanabe. That was a clear win for Inoue but seemed like he could have made it far easier for himself had he made the most of his jab. Whatever the reason for the change it's not been bad for his career and since beating Watanabe we've seen Inoue unify the Japanese, OPBF and WBO Asia Pacific titles, fight for a world title and then recapture the WBO Asia Pacific belt.
Although the bull strong Inoue lost to Munguia his record is actually solid, at least in regards to the regional scene. Wins over Akinori Watanabe, Koshinmaru Saito, Riku Nagahama, Ratchasi Sithsaithong, Yuji Nonaka and Patomsuk Pathompothong give him wins almost every notable fighter on the regional scene at 154lbs, barring current Japanese champion Hironobu Matsunaga. Though of course there is a gulf between the regional scene at the weight and the world level, which he'll be hoping to mix with once again later in the year.
As for Cheng Su the Chinese challenger, who is also 30, is much less well-known and well established. The southpaw from Shenyang stands at 5'11 and will be fighting outside of China for the first time in his career. Going through his record it's hard to pick out anything noteworthy, other than a win last May over Filipino Junjesie Ibgos, who used to be a Featherweight and is 0-4 outside of the Philippines. Footage of him however is more worrying than his competition.
Watching Su we see a rather slow, lumbering fighter who technically looks "alright" but lacks the tools needed to even make a legitimate mark on the regional scene. He seems to understand the basics doesn't always put them into practice. He's slow, lacks real snap on his punches, and when he throws his straight left hand his defenses completely fall apart. He follows opponents around the ring and looks like he's fortunate to be fighting at such a low level that his mistakes have rarely been punished, except in his 2017 loss to Nikolozi Gviniashvili.
On paper this might look like an interesting match up, but we weren't joking when we said Inoue can't afford to lose here. His entire career would be discredited with a loss to someone as limited as Su, who he really should be dealing with inside the distance. We expect to see Inoue closing the gap between the two men, working away on the inside and stopping Su relatively early on.
Anything but a stoppage for Inoue should be viewed as a disappointment.
Prediction - TKO5 Inoue
Having canned the old "Full Schedule" of Asianboxing we have instead decided to concentrate more on the major bouts. This section, the "Preview" section will look at major bouts involving OPBF and national titles. Hopefully leading to a more informative style for, you the reader.